|Russia||Russian Revolution||Soviet Union 1920-45|
Karl Radek, the son of Jewish parents, was born in Lemberg in 1885. He joined the Social Democratic Party of Poland in 1902 and worked closely with Rosa Luxemburg, Felix Dzerzhinsky and Leo Jogiches. The authorities soon became aware of his political activities and he was forced into exile.
Radek later explained that after the 1905 Revolution he returned to Poland: "In 1905 the Russian Revolution broke out and I longed to go back to Tsarist Poland for grass-roots Party work. I approached Rosa Luxemburg with a proposal for a trip to Poland. The day arrived when I crossed the frontier with a false passport, not knowing a word of Russian. The first person I met was Felix Dzerzhinsky, the second Leon Jogiches. I was immediately assigned to the editorial staff of the central Party paper, participated in the publication of the first legal Party daily, Trybuna, and threw myself into propaganda work among the Warsaw working masses."
Radek was forced to flee from Poland and went to live in Germany. In 1913 he met Vladimir Lenin and Gregory Zinoviev. He joined them in their struggle with Clara Zetkin: "We established unity on all basic points; disagreement came only over the slogan for national self-determination. Daily contact with Lenin and discussions with him finally convinced me that the Bolsheviks were the only revolutionary party in Russia, and as early as the International Conference of Women in April, 1915, I helped in the struggle against Clara Zetkin's centerist policies."
In September 1915, Tsar Nicholas II assumed supreme command of the Russian Army fighting on the Eastern Front. This linked him to the country's military failures and during 1917 there was a strong decline support for his government. The country's incompetent and corrupt system could not supply the necessary equipment to enable the Russian Army to fight a modern war. By 1917 over 1,300,000 men had been killed in battle, 4,200,000 wounded and 2,417,000 had been captured by the enemy.
The High Command of the Russian Army now feared a violent revolution and on 28th February suggested that Nicholas II should abdicate in favour of a more popular member of the royal family. Attempts were now made to persuade Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to accept the throne. He refused and on the 1st March, 1917, the Tsar abdicated leaving the Provisional Government in control of the country. Radek joined Lenin and 26 other Bolsheviks in the sealed German train which took them to Russia.
After the October Revolution Radek became a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee. He was initially a supporter of Leon Trotsky and argued that the the Soviet government should help the spread of world revolution. In 1918 he was sent to Germany and with a group of radicals who had been members of the Spartacus League, including Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin, helped to establish the German Communist Party (KPD).
Raymond Gram Swing of the Chicago Daily News, described Radek as "a fully seasoned conspiratorial Communist". He added: "Radek was a sharp-faced, bespectacled journalist and had a profound interest in what was happening everywhere. He had the talent I have encountered in one or two other Soviet journalists of being able to construct the news behind the news. He could read a communique and tell from the language that was used, or from what was said or omitted, just which faction or person in the Foreign Office of a government had prevailed over some other faction or individual. He may have been able to do this because Communist agents reporting on the differences between elements in government offices had supplied the background information. But he remembered it, and used it. It was a kind of scrutiny which I do not believe many United States diplomatic representatives applied to official statements in foreign countries. This faculty of Radek's greatly impressed me."
Communists were heavily involved in the German Revolution that began on 29th October 1918. Luxemburg, Liebknecht and Jogiches played a prominent role in the Spartakist Rising in Berlin. After the assassination of Kurt Eisner, in Munich on 21st February, 1919, another communist, Eugen Levine, became leader of the Bavarian Socialist Republic. The revolution was crushed by the Freikorps and its leaders were executed. Radek, together with the Comintern member Dmitry Manuilsky, made an unsuccessful attempt to launch a second German revolution in October 1923.
Victor Serge wrote in Memoirs of a Revolutionary: "Karl Radek was a sparkling writer, with an equal flair for synthesis and for sarcasm. Thin, rather small, nervous, full of anecdotes which often had a savage side to them, realistic to the point of cruelty, he had a beard growing in a fringe around his clean-shaven face, just like an old-time pirate. His features were irregular, and thick tortoise-shell spectacles ringed his myopic eyes. His walk, staccato gestures, prominent lips, and crewed-up face."
Under pressure from Vladimir Lenin, Radek ceased to advocate world revolution but after the death of his leader, he supported Leon Trotsky against Joseph Stalin. In 1927 he was expelled from the party but after making public statements admitting to his "political errors" he was readmitted in 1929. Radek now became a loyal supporter of Stalin but in 1937 he was arrested and put on trial for treason. Sentenced to ten years imprisonment he died on 19th May, 1939. At first it was reported that he had been killed in a fight with a fellow inmate. However, it later emerged that he was murdered by a member of NKVD on the orders of Lavrenti Beria.
(1) The Granat Encyclopaedia of the Russian Revolution was published by the Soviet government in 1924. The encyclopaedia included a collection of autobiographies including one by Karl Radek.
In 1905 the Russian Revolution broke out and I longed to go back to Tsarist Poland for grass-roots Party work. I approached Rosa Luxemburg with a proposal for a trip to Poland. The day arrived when I crossed the frontier with a false passport, not knowing a word of Russian. The first person I met was Felix Dzerzhinsky, the second Leon Jogiches. I was immediately assigned to the editorial staff of the central Party paper, participated in the publication of the first legal Party daily, Trybuna, and threw myself into propaganda work among the Warsaw working masses.
(2) Karl Radek first met Vladimir Lenin and Gregory Zinoviev in 1913.
We established unity on all basic points; disagreement came only over the slogan for national self-determination. Daily contact with Lenin and discussions with him finally convinced me that the Bolsheviks were the only revolutionary party in Russia, and as early as the International Conference of Women in April, 1915, I helped in the struggle against Clara Zetkin's centerist policies.
(3) Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1945)
Karl Radek was a sparkling writer, with an equal flair for synthesis and for sarcasm. Thin, rather small, nervous, full of anecdotes which often had a savage side to them, realistic to the point of cruelty, he had a beard growing in a fringe around his clean-shaven face, just like an old-time pirate. His features were irregular, and thick tortoise-shell spectacles ringed his myopic eyes. His walk, staccato gestures, prominent lips, and crewed-up face.
(4) Karl Radek, Leon Trotsky, Organizer of Victory (1923)
I do not know to what extent Comrade Trotsky occupied himself before the war with questions of military knowledge. I believe that he did not gain his gifted insight into these questions from books, but received his impetus in this direction at the time when he was acting as correspondent in the Balkan war, this final rehearsal of the great war. It is probable that he deepened his knowledge of war technique and of the mechanism of the army, during his sojourn in France (during the war), from where he sent his brilliant war sketches to the Kiev Mysl. It may be seen from this work how magnificently he grasped the spirit of the army. The Marxist Trotsky saw not only the external discipline of the army, the cannon, the technique. He saw the living human beings who serve the instruments of war, he saw the sprawling charge on the field of battle.
Trotsky is the author of the first pamphlet giving a detailed analysis of the causes of the decay of the International. Even in face of this great decay Trotsky did not lose his faith in the future of socialism; on the contrary, he was profoundly convinced that all those qualities which the bourgeoisie endeavors to cultivate in the uniformed proletariat, for the purpose of securing its own victory, would soon turn against the bourgeoisie, and serve not only as the foundation of the revolution, but also of revolutionary armies. One of the most remarkable documents of his comprehension of the class structure of the army, and of the spirit of the army, is the speech which he made – I believe at the first Soviet Congress and in the Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council – on Kerensky’s July offensive. In this speech Trotsky predicted the collapse of the offensive, not only on technical military grounds, but on the basis of the political analysis of the condition of the army....
The secret of Trotsky’s greatness as organizer of the Red Army lies in this attitude of his towards the question. All great military writers emphasize the tremendously decisive significance of the moral factor in war. One half of Clausewitz’s great book is devoted to this question, and the whole of our victory in the civil war is due to the circumstance that Trotsky knew how to apply this knowledge of the significance of the moral factor in war to our reality. When the old Czarist army went to pieces, the minister of war of the Kerenski government, Verkhovsky, proposed that the older military classes be discharged, the military authorities behind the front partly reduced, and the army reorganized by the introduction of fresh young elements. When we seized power, and the trenches emptied, many of us made the same proposition. But this idea was the purest Utopia. It was impossible to replace the fleeing Czarist army with fresh forces. These two waves would have crossed and divided each other. The old army had to be completely dissolved; the new army could only be built up on the alarm sent out by Soviet Russia to the workers and peasants, to defend the conquests of the revolution.
When, in April 1918, the best Czarist officers who remained in the army after our victory met together for the purpose of working out, in conjunction with our comrades and some military representatives of the Allies, the plan of organization for the army, Trotsky listened to their plans for several days – I have a clear recollection of this scene – in silence. These were the plans of people who did not comprehend the upheaval going on before their eyes. Every one of them replied to the question of how an army was to be organized on the old pattern. They did not grasp the metamorphosis wrought in the human material upon which the army is based. How the war experts laughed at the first voluntary troops organized by Comrade Trotsky in his capacity as Commissar of War! Old Borisov, one of the best Russian military writers, assured those Communists with whom he was obliged to come in contact, time and again, that nothing would come of this undertaking, that the army could only be built up on the basis of general conscription, and maintained by iron discipline. He did not grasp that the volunteer troops were the secure foundation pillars upon which the structure was to be erected, and that the masses of peasants and workers could not possibly be rallied around the flag of war again unless the broad masses were confronted by deadly danger. Without believing for a single moment that the volunteer army could save Russia, Trotsky organized it as an apparatus which he required for the creation of a new army.
(5) Raymond Gram Swing, Good Evening (1964)
Another Russian I met in Germany, and one who was to play a fateful role in Soviet history, was Karl Radek. He was the opposite of Lomonosov, a fully seasoned conspiratorial Communist who had served a brief prison term in Germany for Communist activities. Radek was a sharp-faced, bespectacled journalist and had a profound interest in what was happening everywhere. He had the talent I have encountered in one or two other Soviet journalists of being able to construct the news behind the news. He could read a communique and tell from the language that was used, or from what was said or omitted, just which faction or person in the Foreign Office of a government had prevailed over some other faction or individual. He may have been able to do this because Communist agents reporting on the differences between elements in government offices had supplied the background information. But he remembered it, and used it. It was a kind of scrutiny which I do not believe many United States diplomatic representatives applied to official statements in foreign countries. This faculty of Radek's greatly impressed me.
Later, when I returned to the United States and made the acquaintance of one or two Soviet journalists there, I discovered that their insight into American affairs that I happened to know about was sadly distorted by their Marxist doctrinal prejudices. So now I have become doubtful of the accuracy of the judgments of Karl Radek and other Soviet experts whom I wondered at in Europe. But one thing was sure: they took their journalism quite seriously. They knew that knowledge, if it was not of itself power, was essential to obtaining it.
(6) Karl Radek, Felix Dzerzhinski (1935)
The Social-Democratic Party of Poland grew out of the great strikes that swept the industrial areas of Poland during the nineties... One might say that this party was the predecessor of the Communist Party of Poland as a mass party, and was the child of Felix Dzerzhinski’s indefatigable efforts and endless labour. ‘Joseph’ – it was by this name that he was known among the masses of Polish workers – came to be the most beloved of all the Polish leaders.
Tall, well built, with ardent eyes, quick, passionate speech, thus I first met him in the autumn of 1903, when he came to Gracow for a time to hide from tsarist detectives and at the same time to improve the apparatus for circulating Polish Social-Democratic literature, the publication of which had been resumed largely due to his initiative. He won the love and esteem not only of the older workers, but also of the youth then coming into the movement. In their eyes he was surrounded by a halo by reason of his terms in prison and exile and his reputation as Party organizer. His opinion was valued not only by Rosa but even by veteran Tyszka who had great organizational experience and who combined sound Marxian scholarship with wonderful political sensitivity. On all practical questions of the movement Joseph’s opinion was almost decisive. How did he obtain this authority? In fact, what was the personal origin of this energetic revolutionist, so strict towards himself and towards everybody else too, this man able to inspire and lead them all?
He was born in Lithuania, in the Ossmiansk district, in the family of a small Polish landowner. It was in that district that Joseph Pilsudski was born, several years earlier. Lithuania was at that time cowed by memories of ‘ hangman’ Muraviov – of the punishments meted out by tsarism for the year 1863. The homes of the gentry were alive with thought of those whom the tsarist satrap had executed, or had exiled into penal servitude for participation in the uprising. The youth of the intelligentsia cherished thoughts of the struggle against tsarism for independence of the country. The leaders of the Polish Socialist Party, organized in the last decade of the nineteenth -century, for the most part came from the younger generation of these Polish landowner families. One of the few who rejected the road of nationalism and went over without hesitation to the camp of the international labour movement, was Dzerzhinski. His action is probably to be explained by the fact that being of a comparatively poor family he had seen the Lithuanian peasant masses at closer quarters and was also familiar with the life of the craftsmen of the small towns, and found he was nearer them than to the nobility and its ideals.
There was no factory proletariat in Lithuania. There were Polish and Jewish craftsmen, and it was among them that sixteen-year-old Dzerzhinski began his work. The necessity of working among Polish and Jewish apprentices in a country where the majority of the peasantry was Lithuanian may explain the international trend of Dzerzhinski’s feeling and thought. Lie studied socialism through Polish and Russian works, and for the sake of his work among the Jewish workers he studied Yiddish. Later it was a great joke to us that at the head-quarters of Polish Social-Democracy, which contained quite a number of Jews, only Dzerzhinski, former gentleman of Poland, and Catholic, could read Yiddish. The frequent imprisonments of Dzerzhinski gave him time to study most of the available literature on socialism and he joined the Polish movement with a thoroughly worked-out conception of life. The literature of Polish Social-Democracy, including its organ Sprazca Robotnicza (‘Labour Affairs’), published in Paris in 1894-1895, reached him only later when on the basis of his own experience and thinking, he had already, in the main, come to the same conclusions as our theorists had. The basis for his views had been given by Russian Marxist literature. You might say that he was an expression of the identity of the Polish and Russian labour movements.
His value to the movement was not only in the firmness of his views, but also in the unshakable revolutionary decisiveness he brought into the movement. The Polish nobility of the borders, which had grown up in struggles with the Tartars, and later with the Lithuanian and Ukrainian peasantry, had been distinguished from time immemorial by great energy. It was the most resolute type of Polish society. Dzerzhinski had absorbed ideas foreign to this medium, but defended them with the same energy with which the Polish border landed class had defended their class interests. Dzerzhinski did not recognize difficulties or defeats any more than the Skszetuskis, the Wolodyjewskis and other heroes of the Polish frontier landowners famed in Polish historical novels had done. Dangers existed only to be overcome, defeats only to discover one’s errors and learn by them, and reforge one’s sword for further battles. Most of the landed class who came over to the side of the revolutionary classes were of the ‘penitent nobleman’ type. But Dzerzhinski’s mastery of revolutionary thought enabled him fully to identify himself with the working class, and to feel himself an inseparable part of it. He was not a man who idealized the working class from a distance. In the course of his long illegal activities he had lived with workers, eaten with them from a common platter, shared their beds, known them intimately with all the failings resulting from their history, but also with all that is great in them, pregnant with socialism. In all moments of danger he was confident he could find workers who would not give him away, that with them and by their assistance he would be able once again to build up the shattered organization, that they would muster a military detachment prepared afresh to go into struggle, fearing neither hunger nor cold, nor afraid to leave wife and children, nor afraid of long years of solitude in the Akatui prison or the faraway swamps of Siberia. In the course of this life among the Working class the raw iron of his proletarian idea was tempered to supple steel, and this is the quality that Felix Dzerzhinski brought into the Polish Social-Democratic movement. In the illegal work preceding 1905 this young revolutionist became a leader. When the October Manifesto released him from his imprisonment in the tenth division of the Warsaw-fortress where he had been incarcerated in July, 1905, following a mass Party conference called by him in the Dobia Woods near Warsaw, nobody had the slightest doubt that he, Dzerzhinski, was the leader of Social-Democracy. During the few months of mass movement up to his arrest in July he was a flame inspiring the whole party. Who can forget the days when Marcin Kasprzak was being tried by court martial? Kasprzak was a worker, one of the founders of the Party, on trial for armed resistance to arrest, in the spring of 1904, in a secret printing-works. The city was filled with troops, there were mass arrests. On a new press Dzerzhinski and Ganecki ran off proclamations calling for a general strike. Dzerzhinski personally went through the lines of gendarmes meant to isolate the working-class districts, and carried copies of the proclamations round his waist. Tall, strapping, head high, he passed through the ranks of soldiers and gendarmes who were searching every passer-by. He looked bravely into the eyes of a gendarme, who could not make up his mind to stop him. He remained in the memory of the Warsaw workers for long years, as a legend of a resolute revolutionist. When he was caught in Dobia Woods he made the comrades give him all the papers which it was impossible to destroy in order to take all the responsibility upon himself. In Dobia all those arrested were kept under the convoy of the Cossacks, but Dzerzhinski immediately started propaganda among them. Had there not been a change of guard he would have succeeded in organizing an escape.